Board of Education Presents Testimony on Capital Budget and Improvements Program

February 14, 2000
The following is the text of the testimony on the Fiscal Year 2001 Capital Budget and the Fiscal Year 2001-2006 Capital Improvements Program by Ms. Patricia O'Neill, president of the Board of Education. The testimony was presented to the Montgomery County Council on February 8, 2000.


Good evening, Mr. Subin and members of the County Council. I am Patricia O'Neill, President of the Board of Education, testifying in support of the Board of Education's requested FY 2001 Capital Budget and six-year Capital Improvements Program (CIP). The Board of Education's request for FY 2001 is $144.1 million and $670.7 million for the FY 2001-2006 CIP. We believe that our budget request is reasonable and is affordable given this county's commitment to education. The county executive has proposed $137.0 million for FY 2001, and $619.8 million for the six-year period -- $7.1 million lower than the Board's FY 2001 request and $50.9 million less than the Board's six-year CIP request.

The Board of Education appreciates the county executive's recommendations to fund our entire request for school capacity needs, including support for permanent additions as well as relocatable classrooms. We also are pleased that the county executive has recommended funding the Board's entire request for school modernizations, that includes the acceleration of the elementary modernization schedule from 2.5 schools per year to three schools per year and the acceleration of the middle school modernization schedule from one school every two years to two schools every three years. However, the Board is concerned that funding is not recommended for some other critical projects in our CIP request that are needed to ensure success in our schools.

Specifically, funding was not recommended for needed core improvements at Oak View Elementary School to accommodate the growing student population, improvements at Paint Branch High School to effectively implement the communication studies and science research signature programs, and the bus loop and vehicle parking improvements desperately needed at Eastern Middle School. These projects are vital in order to provide productive and safe learning environments for our children.

The Board of Education does not believe we can defer the additions at Thomas Pyle and Westland middle schools until FY 2004. Pyle Middle School has a program capacity for 1,135 students and enrollment is expected to reach 1,312 students by September 2005. A feasibility study has been completed and planning for this six-classroom addition must begin in FY 2001. Westland Middle School has a program capacity for 932 students and enrollment is expected to reach 1,077 students by September 2005. This is a master planned six-classroom addition and planning must begin in FY 2001.

Also, funding was not included in the six-year CIP for Redland and Ridgeview middle schools. The request for Redland Middle School is to modify the open space classroom areas to provide an improved educational environment needed to deliver a successful middle school program. Many walls do not extend to the ceiling and noise heard between classrooms makes concentration difficult for students and teachers. Also, in some instances, students must walk through one classroom to enter another. The request for Ridgeview Middle School is for needed interior and exterior student circulation and security improvements. This school is not scheduled for a modernization in the near future and requires these modifications to provide a safer and more efficient school for students and faculty.

With regard to countywide projects, the Board of Education urges the Council to fully fund the Facility Planning project. The county executive's recommendation is to maintain the current approved level of effort for this project, $225,000 for each fiscal year in the six-year CIP. The Board's request for the Facility Planning project is $1.24 million in FY 2001 to provide funding for 23 feasibility studies. The $225,000 recommended will not be adequate to complete the feasibility studies for the seven schools scheduled for modernization, and would leave unfunded 15 capacity/addition projects requested by the Board of Education. It is imperative that the County Council support the Board's funding request for the Facility Planning project to allow us to address all of our school capacity needs and to avoid having three clusters at the high school level (Damascus, Albert Einstein, and Wheaton) fail the schools test for the Annual Growth Policy.

The Board of Education's funding request to provide gymnasiums at six elementary schools throughout the county is strongly supported by the community and school PTA's. The Board believes that elementary gymnasiums are essential for the physical education program and the well being of our students. Elementary schools without gymnasiums must be creative, especially in overcrowded schools, in order to offer the required physical education program, and in some cases to provide adequate space for before and after school child care programs. We hope the Council will support the Board's request to provide gymnasiums at six of our elementary schools.

One of the Board of Education's highest priorities is the Early Childhood Centers project. These centers would be located in areas of the county where elementary capacity is extremely limited and where schools have the highest educational load. The Board's request for this project includes funding for 36 relocatable classrooms to offer enhanced Kindergarten programs with reduced staffing ratios of 15:1. Current Kindergarten programs would be expanded to full-day programs in these high educational load schools. This request is a critical component of the Board of Education's academic initiatives to close the performance gap between African American and Hispanic students and White and Asian American students and to raise the bar for all students. It is vital that the Board's request for this project be funded.

The county executive's recommendation did not include all of the funding requested by the Board of Education for Educational Technology: Global Access, but instead, recommends maintaining the level of funding in the current approved CIP. The Board's request for the Global Access project includes two new and important components to promote student learning.

First, the Literacy through Technology component will give students additional technology tools and teachers intensive training to strengthen the literacy program. Second, the Technology Modernization component will support school improvement, initially at the high schools, by providing a comprehensive and ongoing technology modernization plan. The plan will ensure that updated technological capabilities essential for teaching and learning continue to be available in the classrooms.

Also, funding was not recommended for the Board's new Distance Learning project. This project would provide distance learning utilizing two-way interactive television and would allow high schools to offer various course options to students to broaden and enrich their academic knowledge. Both of these projects are vital to the future success of our students and the Board urges the County Council to support our funding request.

On the revenue side of the ledger, the county executive has recommended assuming $50 million in state aid for all six years of the CIP. We recognize and applaud the efforts of the executive and County Council that have brought record levels of state aid to Montgomery County over the past four years. However, if the level of state funding is not sustainable at $50 million per year, there will be a tremendous impact on our CIP and the projects required to provide for needed capacity, modernizations of older schools, and systemic projects. This will be the case unless the Rules, Regulations, and Procedures governing the state eligibility of projects are amended.

It also is necessary to point out that the county executive's six-year recommendation for MCPS represents a $50.95 million increase, while the assumption for state aid increased by $110 million. This means that MCPS will be receiving a substantially smaller portion of the county's bond funding. In FY 1997, MCPS received 46.4% of the county's bond funding and in FY 2000, MCPS received 41.7%. Based on the county executive's recommendation, in FY 2001, we will receive only 32.6% of the county's bond funding.

The Board of Education appreciates the support of the county executive and the County Council for our capital needs in previous years. We urge you to invest in the future of our county by fully funding our budget request. The Board's FY 2001 to FY 2006 CIP request truly represents the capital requirements needed to educate our children and to provide a quality learning environment conducive to effective learning.

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